Working with regional Economic Development folks the message is clear: we don’t have enough workforce. Just a week ago, my daughter, her friend and I were dissuaded from eating at a restaurant in Duluth when folks waiting for their food said they had waited (eyes rolling upward) for :45 (and still counting). The place was simply short staffed.
Boom and bust Iron Range history has shown us a long cycle of immigration and emigration. When the mining jobs were robust, folks came in by the droves. When the mines collapsed, many had to leave. While to some degree this phenomenon has continued to be true for our region throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, all of a sudden we are seeing a dramatic need for workforce–and this affects us all!
In the article Labor Force and Unemployment Decline in Northeast Region June 2023, Gorecki writes, “Job openings are a useful indicator of the demand for workers across the labor market… As of last year, there were an estimated average of 12,388 job vacancies in Northeast Minnesota across all industries and occupations.”
Gorecki goes on to explain how the relationship between job vacancies and the number of unemployed individuals provides a measure of “labor market tightness.” He notes, “following the height of the pandemic, the labor market in Northeast Minnesota has tightened to record levels…” Over the last two years “there were twice as many job openings as there were job seekers.”
Businesses can’t survive without staff. In Ely a few weeks back I was challenged to get a dinner reservation. Businesses don’t have the personnel!
So what can we do about this? How do we attract NEW folks (and or past residents) to come to the Iron Range?
Our neighbors just north of us are working on this same issue. In the August article, Immigration pilot is paying off for Thunder Bay and newcomers to Canada, the byline reads: “Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot helps fill more than 300 jobs for northwestern Ontario city.” The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) is a community-driven immigration program designed to spread the benefits of economic immigration to smaller communities by creating a path to permanent residence for skilled foreign workers who want to work and live in Thunder Bay and Area. The pilot boundaries were expanded to greater northwestern Ontario including the Rainy River district community of Fort Frances and along the north shore of Lake Superior.That’s our backyard (and opening fishing territory).
Our Iron Range past shows us how people moving into the area, immigration, solved workforce needs. Immigration to the Iron Range, 1880–1930, notes that “in 1885, there were fewer than five thousand people living on the Iron Range. By 1920, the population exceeded a hundred thousand. This growth was spurred by the need for labor in the mines and corresponded with a massive wave of immigration… (Immigrants) formed 85 percent of the workforce.” While there were originally 43 different ethnicities on the Iron Range, “Over time, ethnic distinctions diminished. Shared experiences created a new, interethnic identity.”
That’s us Rangers today.
While our current workforce needs are a bit different than those of the 20th century, part of the solution to fixing it is something in which the Iron Range is an expert. Bringing in some new folks.